Bear Cave is a privately-owned cave, and always has been. It is owned and managed by cavers, Tom and Kim Metzgar, who permit visitation for those who have read the management plan and agree to abide by certain restrictions. If the owners are taking the time to manage the preserve, and to permit visitation, which they do not have to do, certainly anyone who wishes to visit the preserve can take the time to read the management plan and abide by it.
The cave is open to members of the National Speleological Society who contact the owners prior to visiting. All other persons who wish to visit the cave must submit a free permit application and be approved prior to visitation.
If you notice that there are no directions to the cave online, and no maps online, there is a reason. Caving is a recreational activity, but it should not be taken lightly. Sure, anyone can buy a flashlight at the closest store, and go caving. Would you make your own parachute, hire a plane, and then jump out, with no prior training? Cavers have a saying that “cavers rescue spelunkers.” There are no directions or maps of the cave online because “cavers rescue spelunkers.”
Kim and her family have seen it all over the years. From a Scout troop that set the woods on fire while camping (one of many reasons for the no camping rule), to another troop that had to be rescued by the Metzgars’ dog, Bart (true story), to the drunken fools that walked off a nearby quarry (one person died), to the person who got drunk while camping and decided to break into someone’s car to drive home, but passed out in the car before he could drive (we have photos), to the spray paint graffiti—now removed—and cases prosecuted successfully under the Cave Protection Act, to 3 a.m. knocks on the door because someone has stupidly lost their car keys and needs to use the phone… Hmmm… these are the reasons caves are closed. Thus, these are also the reasons for the restrictions, no directions, and no maps. If you wish to go to the cave and you are not a member of an organized caving group, then go with an organized group and learn caving the right way. Do not just parachute in.
The National Speleological Society has grottos, or caving clubs, in every corner of the nation. Each group usually has a minimal fee for annual dues, ranging from $10 to $15 a year. They also offer free beginner trips. Think about it. For less than it costs to drive to the cave, annual dues entitle you to a newsletter with all of the caving news you can handle, news about special group campouts at regional events that frequently have access to closed or gated caves, and maps and news of new discoveries of caves. Yes, caves are still being discovered and documented every year.
You say you learned to go caving at summer camp, or with friends, and you already have all the right equipment? Well, the other thing caving groups can offer that no one else does is that we know the cave owners, what caves are open, what caves are closed, and what the access is (for example, Amish-owners do not permit Sunday caving). That is why they call us organized cavers. We are all-volunteer and do not charge anyone to visit a cave, EVER! Dues to a local group help support cost of producing a newsletter, protecting caves, and running the organization. We are all volunteers. Do you want to be part of the solution, or part of the problem? Join a grotto, MAKC, and/or the NSS, and make a difference! It will certainly make your access to Bear Cave, and other caves like it, much easier. We are not only buying caves, but we are cleaning them up, owning, and preserving caves. Become a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. Help keep caves open and do it the right way.